“A blissful marriage is bad for a divorce attorney”, the self-confessed cynic said, noting that in the 12 months since city’s registrar opened its doors to same-sex couples, only a handful had walked through his.
“Still it’s nice to see things not going sour too soon,” he added, seemingly content – for the time being at least – with helping straight couples separate.
The advent of gay marriages in one of the US’s most populous states had been accompanied by predictions of a boom time for both the wedding business, and the divorce industry. Certainly the first rings true.
Bernadette Smith’s company 14 Stories has been organising special days for gay couple for eight years in Massachusetts. But the business has seen a definite increase since it branched out to New York following the decision to allow same-sex unions in the state. “The last years has been great. It has been fantastic – business is up 50% on the year. And it is not just the quantity of weddings but also what people are planning.”
Smith said that last summer, gay weddings tended to be smaller affairs in New York as couples rushed to take up the newly afforded opportunity of being able to marry. As a result many opted for the city clerk’s office rather than anything more lavish.
But as time progresses, expediency is giving way to luxury. And this is music to the ears of wedding specialists who will help you plan the special day, for a fee. “People are planning more this year than last year, and I do not think it will be just a surge – there are a lot of same-sex couples in New York,” Smith said.
Not that she caters just for Manhattanites. Out-of-towners wanting to get married in New York can opt for one of the firm’s elopement wedding, in which specialists will help walk the happy couple down the New York aisle and through its paperwork. For the sum of $3,000 they’ll throw in a tour of the city, dinner, cake, photographer and flowers. A $9,500 service includes reception for up to 50 guests at a private members club in a Chelsea brownstone or at an upmarket hotel on the Hudson.
Around 40 such elopement weddings have been arranged by Smith over the last year, alongside 10 other large weddings. “It’s definitely going to be pretty lucrative for us. The surge wasn’t last year but this year,” she said. “And it is not just us, people we talk to in the industry seem to be doing pretty well as well. It seems to be a very big thing all around.”
It could be even more lucrative is it wasn’t for the fact that gay couples tend to pay less on weddings as a result of smaller guest lists, Smith said, explaining a greater tendency amongst same-sex couple to pay for the day themselves. As a result they are less likely to be swayed by parental demands that neighbours, extended family members and the like be in attendance.
Despite the smaller spend per couple, same-sex unions are a boon to the wedding industry. Smith said that over the first three years of gay nuptials in New York, the industry is expected to see a $100m increase. The same can’t be said just yet for the scores of Manhattan divorce lawyers patiently waiting for the dollar to drop their way.
Clement, who has been helping New York and New Jersey couples separate for 25 years, doesn’t think his profession has enough work for a stand-alone gay divorce specialist. “That may be premature,” he said. “We have had a few same-sex divorces come in to the office, but not enough yet to be called a specialist – that would have required a lot of very short-term marriages.”
Indeed, there hasn’t been a notable increase in same-sex divorce cases in New York despite the advent of same-sex unions. “We were getting a few even before it became legal. In a strange quirk of the law, you could get divorced in New York before you could get married. It was about being able to marry in other jurisdictions,” Clement explained.
The lawyer isn’t surprised by the lack of gay couples beating down his door for a divorce. “It has only been a year and even someone as cynical as me has to admit that it is hard to go from marital bliss to ‘I can’t stand you anymore’ within a year,” he said.
In all, we reckons he has dealt with fewer than 10 cases over the past 12 months, alongside a handful of pre-nups for same-sex brides- and grooms-to-be. But he thinks things will change and that before long the gay divorce market could be a nice little earner. “If the seven year itch carries over, 2018 will be a good year,” he said. “There will be a growth spurt then.”
[Same sex wedding topper via Shutterstock]